As a Lebanese-American whose father fled to Lebanon from Haifa in 1948, Carol Jahshan was at first uncertain of her decision to spend three months in Israel. Nevertheless, despite the efforts of friends and family to dissuade her, she went—and found much that was unexpected:
I am dark-haired and olive-skinned. Everyone who addressed me did so in Hebrew. When I responded with “Ani lo m’vinah ivrit” (I don’t understand Hebrew), I was met with surprise. Some Israelis told me, laughing, that I looked more Israeli than they did. Inevitably, the question “where are you from?” would come up. It turned out that I had no need to be anxious [about their reactions]. I let people know that I was from Lebanon and was met with smiles. I let people know that my father was born in Haifa in 1948 and that same year his family took him to Lebanon where he lived most of his life. More smiles and friendly curiosity. . . . I was invited into a variety of people’s homes for Shabbat dinners. This was not the reception I had expected at all. . . . Among the many complex feelings I felt in Israel, one of the most undeniable, surprising, and important was feeling absolutely welcomed. . . .
As [my family and I] drove through northern Israel, I realized how many Arabs live here, and that it would be possible for me to get along just fine in Israel speaking only Arabic. This was another surprise. In all of the conversations I had ever had or heard relating to the political situation surrounding Israel, the existence of Israeli Arabs was simply never acknowledged. All of a sudden, when listening to a Hizballah threat to bomb Haifa, I realized that threats like these are ultimately threats to my own family members and many other Arab people. . . . Another insight I did not have before spending time in Israel.